Top result in Google search against Google's own guidelines

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Almost everyone with a blog or website, at some stage, is going to want to learn how to increase website traffic from search results.

So how do you go about it?

Well, the likely thing is to search on Google using the phrase (or something very similar) "increase website traffic".

But oddly enough, this very SEO phrase highlights the failure of Google to determine which results are of high quality (and should therefore appear at the top of search results), and which are of poor quality (and should not appear high up in the page rankings).

This article will help you to understand the limitations of Google and its search algorithms in returning quality search results, so that you can adjust your SEO and marketing strategies accordingly.

Analyzing Google's first page search results

At the time of writing, according to Google, the top 10 results for the search increase website traffic were:

  1. How to Increase Website Traffic: 19 Steps - wikiHow
  2. Proven Strategies to Increase Website Traffic [INFOGRAPHIC]
  3. How to Increase Your Website's Traffic - Without Any Marketing
  4. 7 Powerful Ways to Increase Website Traffic in 2013 - All Blogging Tips
  5. How to Increase Website Traffic - YouTube
  6. How To Increase Website Traffic: 21 Blog Tactics To ... - 38Pitches
  7. Targeted Website Traffic | Increase Site Visitors | How To Get Traffic
  8. How To Gain Web Traffic - Increase Web Traffic
  9. Increasing Website Traffic: 6 Steps to Guest Blogging | Entrepreneur
  10. Increase Website Traffic, PageRank, SEO, Backlinks, Alexa - Free

On the surface of things, this seems fairly reasonably. Most of the results come from fairly high authority websites like wikiHow and Entrepreneur, and some of the articles were written by leading authorities in the field, like Rand Fishkin.

Had I been slightly more apathetic about my research into the quality of Google's results, I might have left it at that.

But I thought I would take a glance over the top 3 articles to see if they had any unique insight that was better than your average article.

This is where things unravelled. In order to explain things, we first need to understand the generally accepted "best practices" for increasing Web traffic as outlined by Google itself.

Google webmaster guidelines

Naturally Google has a lot of advice and rules for webmasters to follow in order to ensure that your site grows and builds plenty of valuable organic search traffic, without resorting to tactics that may potentially damage the quality of their search results.

Here is an excerpt from guidelines posted to their Webmaster Guidelines:

Quality guidelines - specific guidelines

Avoid the following techniques:

Automatically generated content

Participating in link schemes

Cloaking

Sneaky redirects

Hidden text or links

Doorway pages

Scraped content

Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value

Digging a little deeper, we can also see additional advice on anchors in the Google help article entitled Link schemes:

Any anchors intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing anchors from your site.

The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results:

Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link

Excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking

Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
Using automated programs or services to create links to your site

Ok, so Google is pretty clear in its guidelines about what is and isn't allowed - especially when it comes to building artificial links in order to manipulate its search rankings.

Google's top search result advises against its own guidelines

Imagine my surprise when I actually read the first result page (Bear in mind that this is the result that Google recommends as the absolute authority on the subject of "increasing website traffic" - it's the result that many new webmasters will click on first in order to learn how to increase their own Web traffic)

Here's a quote from Google's top page result on wikiHow:

Get linked. This is a very important part of website management. Exchange links. Trading links with other websites that are closely related to the subject of your website can bring you more website traffic. These are two-way links because you must provide a link to them, too, and linking to low-quality websites can threaten the credibility of yours. Only link to sites that are dead on topic, and truly help your visitors. Instead of trading links, you could also trade banner ads, half page ads, classified ads, etc.

The highlighted text is actually an anchor to another wikiHow article entitled How to Exchange Links. There they offer the following advice:

Do a search in Google and try to locate as many related sites as possible.

Link to their site first. (Because their site, like yours if you followed step one, is worth linking to even if you don't get a return link.)

Send an email to the site owners/webmasters requesting them for a link exchange deal. Include your URL and a brief explanation of your site, their URL that you want the link from, and a meaningful subject line.

Either incorporate their link into one of your content pages, or have a well organized, annotated link directory. Don't just bury their link among hundreds of others on a links page where nobody but a search engine will ever see it.

In essence they are providing advice that is almost perfectly contrary to what Google itself recommends. Yet they return this as the number one result. Why?

Understanding Google from an SEO point of view

The reason that Google can return arguably the worst possible search result in first position is because:

Google does not understand content!

It hasn't got the first idea what you are talking about. Essentially, all it knows is that the article is about a set of keywords (like 'increasing website traffic), and that it is on a high authority website.

Google is quickly trying to "get smarter" by incorporating social signals into its page ranking algorithms, but these signals can also be gamed (because big websites can generate plenty of social interest for relatively mediocre content).

So where does this leave you and me?

Google, SEO & content marketing

Oddly enough, the only course of action for any business or blogger looking to generate higher page rankings and climb the search results to drive plenty of organic search traffic is to:

  1. Create plenty of high quality content for humans
  2. Promote the content socially to humans
  3. Build a following/community of regular readers
  4. Leverage this community to grow further

Which is exactly what Google advises in the first place. It's kind of a virtuous circle in reverse.

Google knows it can't do a proper job, so it advises webmasters to create great content and build a network of followers, which it then uses as a signal of quality to help rank pages, and do a better job.

The upshot is that:

Your focus should always be on humans and developing connections and relationships with other people.

At the same time you need to recognize that:

There is almost no chance of Google correctly ranking search results according to their intrinsic quality (in the same way a human would) - so don't let it get you down.

But, to give Google its due, there is so much garbage out there on the Web that the fact that it can do a decent job is a brilliant achievement in itself.

With that, it seems like we've come full circle:

  1. Before the Internet we had to develop relationships with other people in order to do business.
  2. For a few years, as the Internet took off, it was possible to make money from people "out there in cyberspace".
  3. Now, once again, we have to develop relationships with other people - only this time spreading our "message" (content) over the Web.

Ultimately, success in business will always be about how we can reach out and influence other people. Google and SEO are just tools that give us the opportunity to do what we've always done... from a computer.

What are your thoughts on the quality of Google's search results and how SEO can help/hinder the success of a business?

Share your views or questions in the comments.